With five FIFA competitions already under his belt, Tahiti’s Kader Zitouni is taking the next step in his refereeing career after being selected to represent the region with the whistle in his hand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
Although he has had the call-up from FIFA several times before, Zitouni was honoured and suprised to receive his first appointment in the middle of the field in a FIFA competition this October.
“I am very happy, it is an important tournament and it is my first world cup where I will be the referee, before I was support,” he said.
“All tournaments are a big honour and a big surprise. We have been working so hard for this.”
Zitouni has had little time to rest this year after being appointed as a match official at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 between multiple OFC competitions and matches. Now only two months after departing Russia, Zitouni is looking forward to reuniting with his former Confederations Cup team in India.
“It will be exciting to arrive in a new country and meet up with all the other referees and FIFA staff during the first week,” he said.
“It will be my sixth FIFA tournament and there will be some referees there that were with me in Russia. We worked together in the games over there and I’m really excited and happy to be able to meet them again in India.”
After recently discovering the third member of his ideal match official team, Zitouni is more excited than ever to show his assistant referees Folio Moeaki and Bernard Mutekera – both FIFA competition debutants – what it is like on the international stage.
“I refereed with Folio for two years and we’ve done many games and many tournaments together. I did one game with Bernard in June and we spent five days together and there was a good, friendly feeling between us so I asked Bernard if he would like to work with us,” he said.
“It will be the first tournament for both of them so I know how they will be feeling, I still remember when I did my first tournament. I know it will be exciting for them and it will be a big surprise also because it really is totally different.
“They are coming next week and will be staying in New Zealand for four weeks to train to work together and to referee some games here. I hope to prepare them very well so that when they arrive there, they know what happens at a FIFA tournament.”
Although there will be a lot riding on Zitouni’s shoulders when he leads Moeaki and Mutekera through their debut, he is excited to give new referees an opportunity to showcase the growing talent in Oceania and is hopeful that their assignment in India will contribute to the ongoing improvement in all areas of football in the region.
“I think here in Oceania, we are going up,” he said.
“There are now referees like Matthew Conger, Norbert Hauata, Nick Waldron and Sarah Jones that have shown the world this at FIFA tournaments. Now I hope many referees reach this level and help Oceania have more presence in FIFA tournaments.
“In the FIFA U-20 World Cup this year we had to trios of match officials. Before that tournament we had only ever had one. It is the same with our teams. In the U-20 and the U-17 World Cups we have two teams from Oceania.
“Oceania is now going to more FIFA competitions and people are starting to consider Oceania more. If they are considering the teams and also the referees then I think we’ll continue going up.”
Zitouni plans to continue going up himself – pushing himself every day to edge closer to achieving his big dream – but the eager Tahitian is well aware that the path to the FIFA World Cup is long.
“All referees dream of the big World Cup. Next year there is the World Cup in Russia but I’m taking things step-by-step,” he said.
“I don’t know what is going to happen but for now I’ve got my first game at the FIFA U-17 World Cup and hopefully a second and maybe third game.
“Let’s see what happens and just keep going. The dream is the big World Cup for sure but it is still just a dream at this time.”
Zitouni, Moeaki and Mutekera will join the New Zealand and New Caledonia U-17 national teams as Oceania representatives at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, which will run from 6-28 October.